Oxbow Agriculture used to keep track of their farming activities through written field records - relying on everyone involved in the farming process to write things down in a variety of different formats. The challenges that came with written records included: no visibility in historic records across the organization, hard to use field records for anything other than 'having them on record just in case', difficulty communicating exact work orders across the organization or to contractors and record-keeping that was labor-intensive and prone to errors.
Oxbow Agriculture owner Tyler McClendon started to look for a farm management system in 2015 to help keep track of the company's field activities, and streamline the record keeping process. After trialling a number of different systems, Tyler decided to adopt Agworld throughout his organization as he found it was the easiest to use and the best at collecting the data he needs.
Because Oxbow Agriculture now uses Agworld, they have a complete set of field records available at all times. With these field records it has become easier to catch billing errors, creating an annual savings of $20 - $25 per acre. Agworld has also simplified the communication between Tyler, his farm managers, custom contractors, harvesters, agronomists, operators and anyone else involved in the farming process. With Agworld's work orders every operator now knows the exact details of each job they perform, minimizing the occurrence of application errors.
Arkansas' economy is dominated by agriculture, which contributes $16+ billion annually through the export of rice, soybeans, cotton, feed grains and other commodities. Eastern Arkansas, on the Mississippi river with its deep and fertile alluvial soils, is home to many of the state's larger cropping operations such as Oxbow Agriculture. Oxbow Agriculture, based in Marianna, AR, farms 6,000 acres in a rotation of cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans, while owner Tyler McClendon and his 20 staff are also Reinke center pivot dealers, taking care of sales, support and repairs in Arkansas and surrounding states. Center pivots are a common sight in Arkansas, with around 70% of the state's cropping land under irrigation.
Tyler was born into a farming family but, after getting a degree in ag economics and working in banking for a while, decided to start his own farming business separately from his family in 2010. When he started farming, Tyler worked on a project to try and collect as much in-field data as possible across his farming operation as well as for a number of other farmers in the area which, at that time, meant he had to build a lot of his own IT infrastructure. “In 2010 I couldn't find a farm management platform that would help me with my production plan and allow me to keep track of my field applications during the season, so I had to build something myself”, Tyler says. “Around 2015, more farm management systems became available and so I tried a couple of different ones. I ended up choosing Agworld for my operation because it was easiest to use and it offered us the best ways to collect in-field data across our team.”
Tyler continues: “Another important factor in deciding to adopt Agworld for us is the fact that Agworld can be used by so many different people involved in the farming process. Other systems we tried were able to store data, but they made it too difficult to communicate that data between myself, our operators, the agronomist, and the contractors we use. With these systems we still had to rely on text messages, phone calls, email, and not everyone has access to the same thing - which created complications. I really avoid trying to have group texts now because it gives people different amounts of information, even though we're all involved in the process.”
Improving communication and visibility
The team at Oxbow Agriculture plants their own crops and performs all tillage operations, but a lot of the spraying, fertilzing and harvesting operations are contracted out. Tyler explains: “I look at everything through a financial lens and, with the size of our operation in combination with the availability and reliability of contractors in our area, it doesn't make sense for me to perform these operations in-house. What it does mean for us as a business however is that we have to be able to accurately communicate our needs to these contractors, as it is easier for errors to occur when multiple parties are involved.”
Putting Agworld at the center of Oxbow Agriculture's communication strategy, is helping to streamline the communication process and decreases the chances of miscommunication and errors occurring, says Tyler: “Our agronomist, Blake Foust, and I create our cropping plan ahead of the season so we both know the details of our game plan when the season starts. Then, during the season, Blake converts the plan into individual recommendations, which he sends through to me. From there, it's easy for me to turn a recommendation into a work order, which I can then send to one of our operators or to a contractor with a simple click of a button.”
Tyler: “I really like the Agworld work orders as they form a 'checklist' for whoever is performing an operation, which makes it very unlikely for the operator to forget something or make an error. Any other kind of 'manual communication' is prone to errors or forgetting details, but with Agworld - because it's a continuous flow of information from the agronomist through to the operator - we know that everyone has the exact information they need. This allows me to better coordinate myself, my farm managers, contractors, harvesters and our agronomist - it can be hard to put a price on this, but to me it's invaluable.”
6-figure savings on input costs
It can sometimes be hard to quantify the financial benefits of using a digital platform in agriculture, but for Tyler it is a very easy equation to utilize Agworld: “I think that a lot of farmers without accurate digital field records, don't really know whether they have been billed correctly for their inputs or custom operations - unless they only farm a few hundred acres. For a farm of our size, with different crops planted at different times, you need to have the work orders and completed actuals in Agworld as a baseline for how much product should have been used. Unless you have that, you don't really know what you should have been billed.”
Tyler explains: “In my world, invoices are either 'within tolerance' - or they are completely wrong. For example - I never see an invoice that is 5% more than it should be but I do get double-billed for a batch of chemicals sometimes, and that'll probably be a $40,000 error. You don't catch these things on averages, you catch them in really big events that only happen a couple of times per year. But, if you don't check every one of them, you don't know which ones are the big errors, and you won't catch them.”
Tyler concludes with: “In our operation, since we started to use Agworld, we save an average of between $20 and $25 per acre per year because Agworld helps us catch billing errors. That might not sound like much, but for Oxbow Agriculture that is over $120,000 per year. I like Agworld for many different reasons, but being able to quantify our savings makes the benefits of using the platform in our organzation very tangible to me.”
"Since we started to use Agworld, we save an average of between $20 and $25 per acre per year, because it helps us catch billing errors. That might not sound like much, but for Oxbow Agriculture that is over $120,000 per year."
De Bortoli Wines used to rely on written records in journals and diaries to keep field records for all their farms. Due to the size and scope of their operation this created constraints, as it did not allow for multiple people across their operation to have visibility into the day-to-day operations.
The Davidson family experiences a lot of variation in yield across their fields, as is the case on every farm. Instead of keeping up the blanket-rate applications of fertiliser across the fields as they had done for years, the Davidsons wanted to be able to test a wide range of fertiliser responses across their farm so they can control for all local factors and don't have to rely on trial results from a different location and under different circumstances.
The way we interact with each other and the way consumers prefer to do business is showing an increasing tendency to move into the digital sphere. The ag retail sector is not isolated from this trend, with a number of online-only input providers appearing in the competitor landscape, and traditional input suppliers therefore need to take the appropriate steps in order to ensure their sustainability and profitability in the long term.